Several Ravens attempting to beat numbers game

OWINGS MILLS - Inside an emptying locker room at midnight, several players lingered to contemplate whether this was the end or beginning of their tenure with the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have until Sunday to reduce their roster to the league limit of 53, but were expected to make their final decisions Friday and announce them publicly on Saturday.

The so-called bubble is about to pop as a dozen players were in contention for roughly five spots. Following a 30-24 loss Thursday to the New York Giants, the status of multiple veterans and rookies remained relatively unclear.

Randy Hymes reportedly has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season. He will be placed on injured reserve. That costly injury complicates the picture at receiver and benefits Morgan State product Marc Lester. Lester caught three passes against New York.

The majority of the top competitions for jobs were along the offensive and defensive lines.

Besides individual talent, versatility and special-teams skills, overall depth and injuries are deciding factors in a numbers game coaches and players often describe as a cruel aspect of their business. "It's always a sad time," offensive guard Jason Thomas said. "You get to know guys for four or five months and you hate to see anybody go."

Because the Ravens currently have 69 players, including roster exemptions that expire Sunday, they will have to release 16 players. Baltimore will then establish a five-member practice squad traditionally comprised of younger prospects that didn't make the final cut.

While rookie defensive end Jarret Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick, became entrenched on the roster, veteran defensive linemen Riddick Parker and Joe Salave'a waged a battle against youngsters Nate Bolling and Aubrayo Franklin. Bolling leads the league in sacks this preseason with five a year after making the final roster, being cut and then signed to the Ravens' practice squad.

Salave'a sprained a knee on the first day of camp, but collected a sack and forced a fumble against the Giants. "Hopefully, the chips fall your way," said Salave'a, a former Tennessee Titans starter. "For the limited action I've got so far from where we started with the injury to now, I've done everything I could. "As we approach the start of the season, whether it be here or elsewhere, I'm grateful that my health is getting there."

Parker, 29, has a Super Bowl ring from his days with the New England Patriots along with the perspective of seven years in the NFL, including last season here. "I will be one of those guys losing sleep because I want to be a part of this organization," Parker said. "I don't have any regrets. Whether I've done enough obviously isn't a question I can answer. I would rather be here than be a journeyman."

Linebacker Johnny Rutledge, signed after Bernardo Harris broke his leg, helped his cause against the Giants with five tackles and a forced fumble.

Nagging injuries to cornerbacks Tom Knight (hamstring) and Alvin Porter (groin) cloud the issue in the secondary as newcomer Raymond Walls has gotten acclimated quickly. The Ravens may not be able to afford to carry two ailing defensive backs.

Plus, two extra jobs on special teams are reserved for kickoff specialist Wade Richey and Harold Morrow, an elite wedge-buster. Imposing rookie fullback Ovie Mughelli isn't a lock even though he's a fourth-round pick.

Seven blockers are set on the offensive line. Thomas and Damion Cook are competing for one spot. Both players' ability to swing between two positions boosts their chances. Cook plays guard and tackle and Thomas can play guard, center and tackle.

"Versatility never hurts," said Thomas, who played in 11 games last year for Baltimore. "I'm still going to be just as nervous. "In this league, NFL stands for Not For Long. You never know what's going on upstairs and what they really think about you."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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